In honor of this week's new episode of Discovery Channel's Naked and Afraid, Nude in Nicaragua, we decided to reach out to the show's two time veteran, EJ "Skullcrusher" Snyder who we first met on Terror in Tanzania and again in Man vs. Amazon. As seen on the show, Snyder is an extreme survivalist, adventurer and military expert who has a proven track record of withstanding tough survival situations both on and off screen. He is a two war combat veteran and retired Army Sergeant Major that now works as a Government Contractor teaching survival skills. Check out our exclusive interview below for EJ's tips on diet, fitness and how to ultimately succeed at living the Survival Life.
Fitness Cult Chronicles: As a survival and military expert, what is your primary training routine to stay in shape?
EJ Snyder: I always say that Survival is 90% Mental and 10% Physical, but you better make damn sure that your 10% is 100% ready because in a survival scenario you're going to need it! Whether I was playing sports when I was young or warding off the neighborhood bully to my time in the US Army, fitness has always played an important role in my life. In the Military we train as we fight and I have been able to apply these skills to survival situations. I primarily try to train outdoors whenever I can. I believe in being a total package Survivalist so I want to be ready for any survival scenario thrown at me and train in multiple ways and on many different things. I am a workhorse and love to push myself hard!
I use a variety of methods to stay fit and keep my body guessing, because you never know what the wild will throw at you. I love the P-90X System and methodology because of the muscle confusion that keeps your body guessing, so I try to apply that to my training as much as possible. I also do a lot of fast trekking with a heavy weighted pack on my back moving as fast as I can for a set distance over various terrain. I find it really helps build your core, works your cardio, and strengthens your legs. I do this instead of regular jogging or running because in a survival situation you will probably be moving with some gear.
I also climb trees and rocks, swim, and chop wood for a good workout because these are tasks you may need out in the wild. When it comes to overall muscle strength, I use a combination of kettlebell workouts and regular weightlifting. I just found a new workout I call "The Thor Workout" which I was told by a friend is what Chris Helmsworth used to prepare for his role as "Thor." It's an awesome muscle strengthening, endurance, and cardio workout all in one! 7 sets of 7, 6 sets of 6, and 5 sets of 5 with a minute between each. A real smoker! I am also a serious self-defense junkie, so I do a lot of boxing, wrestling, martial arts, and Military hand to hand training. I was doing MMA before they called it MMA.
I am also in the process of developing a Wilderness Survival Workout that will be totally geared towards working out in the wild and using items you would normally find outside to keep in shape. It will focus heavily on using the tasks you need to do in a survival scenario that will help keep you alive. There will be lots of movement, cardio, stretching, and flexibility through different terrains that will develop muscles for all around for strength, endurance, cardio, and core. I am psyched about this and we are looking at doing a Manual and DVD on it. It's definitely become a project of the heart!
FCC: Did you do anything special to prepare for both of your stints on Naked and Afraid?
EJS: I stuck to what I do everyday because I live the Survival Life and am always preparing for bad days ahead and not a TV Show. I normally eat a very clean and healthy diet, taking vitamins, supplements, and protein drinks with lots of water. However, I have been found to cheat from time to time with a good bacon cheeseburger and a beer...you have to still enjoy life too, right? But on a serious note, I didn't worry much about my diet before I left and tried to pack on about 20-25 pounds of fat before I went into it. I did this because I wanted to give myself an edge in terms of staving off hunger longer.
Fat in a survival situation burns slower and gives you a nice reserve to live off of until you can get your water and food problems under control. When you go in lean, muscle is eaten up much quicker and you deteriorate much faster both physically and mentally. A chemical gets released that seriously effects your decision making process which can get you in serious trouble very fast. I always say, you must control the situation and not let it control you!
FCC: How important is diet to your training regimen - Paleo, Zone, or do you just wing it?
EJS: Diet is everything to a fitness minded person and can not be taken for granted. I try to carefully monitor what my intake is in terms of nutrients, content, and quantity. The body is a machine that needs to be taken care of, fueled, and is what moves you physically through all of life's demands. Military and survival situations are extremely demanding, and in many cases, life-threatening. I always allow myself some room to cheat because I feel that it's good for my morale.
Mental and spiritual health are just as important to me as my physical well-being. I lost a tremendous amount of weight on both Naked and Afraid challenges. I lost 55 pounds in Tanzania and 44 pounds in the Amazon in just 21 days each. I lost 51 pounds in 68 days of US Army Ranger School to put it into perspective how physically demanding and draining these survival challenges are. In my experience, I have noticed that it takes well over six months for your body's metabolism to recover...sometimes longer.
FCC: I see that you offer survival training to small groups - describe what one would expect during this experience.
EJS: I believe that every person on the planet should know how to do two things in life...Swim and have some basic Survival Skills, as both will save your life one day. I train folks on survival, not to make them experts but to give them some confidence in some basic skills to continue to practice and get better at. I always incorporate some scenario type confidence building exercise. I get this from my military training to train as you fight. It's great that you can use a bow drill in your backyard under perfect conditions when you are rested and fed, but can you do it when it really matters when your stressed, tired, cold, and hungry? That's what I want you to get to. With that said, my first level is for those with no training at all - your everyday Joe or Joan, the factory worker, house wife, cashier, and urban dwellers.
I like offering something no one else is so that a parent and child, husband and wife, siblings, or best friends can attend together and have a once in a lifetime experience together, which really can't have a price on it. The next level is the Basic Survival for those with some outdoor, military, or survival knowledge. We work on increasing the person's skill set, knowledge, and confidence. There is a lot more scenario training and we end with a final test and evaluation. Lastly, is the Advanced Survival, where we get into more out of the box, complex survival skills. Most groups are made up of 8-12 people, but I also do some one-on-one training as well. I try to make them affordable and meet the overall needs and desires of the people attending. I also offer training in Land Navigation and other special skills separately, such as Tracking.
FCC: We understand that you have to physically train to withstand a survival situation, but what do you personally do to develop mental toughness to take into these situations?
EJS: Mental Toughness is hard to train because it usually comes from experience. When you are truly tested mentally and emotionally and are able to succeed, that's when you start becoming mentally tough. This is why I believe so strongly in realistic scenario training because the toughness really comes through when you are dealing with stress and fatigue. It's when you fell like giving up, but that intestinal fortitude deep down inside of you tells you to go on just a little further.
I believe my greatest survival asset is my Iron Will. I live by my motto, "Tua Sponte Superstes!" This is Latin for "Survive by your Own Will!" The will to live is strong and has saved many people's lives. It is also part of mental toughness , so don't count it out. I do challenge my brain a lot through puzzles of all kinds. Puzzles stimulate the brain and help with making problem solving easier and faster, so don't be so quick to throw away that newspaper crossword puzzle.
Keeping my mind fresh has helped me out of a lot of dangerous situations and has helped keep me calm and cool under fire where decisions count most! In many cases you need to become a wilderness "MacGyver" to adapt, improvise, and overcome to survive. After all, no survival skill appeared in a book until someone used trial and error to make it a skill.
FCC: What's the most important survival skill you've learned in your life?
EJS: There are several actually.
- First and foremost, is that I possess a very rock solid Iron Will!
- Never surrender!
- Never give up or quit no matter what!
- Fight til the end!
- Tap into your primal instincts!
- Stay stubborn!
- You can always find another way to make it!
FCC: Do you have any upcoming projects in the works where we can see your survival skills in action again?
EJS: We are in heavy discussions with several networks and production companies on several projects of my own, so stay tuned. Of course I am always ready for a third return to "Naked and Afraid!" Send me where NO MAN should be, that's the place for me! I the meantime, I'm doing a lot of appearances and motivational speaking, so reach out to me at my website and schedule one for your next event or venue. I will be in a feature article in the September edition of American Survival Guide Magazine. I am also writing articles for Survival Quarterly Magazine and Survival First Blog. I host my own live podcast on Spreecast so you can tune in every Monday Night at 9-11 PM EST and the links are posted on my FB Page and Twitter. I appreciate the chance to talk about both fitness and survival training - it's been EPIC!!!
Visit the links below to learn more about EJ "Skullcrusher" Snyder:
Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/EJSkullcrusherSnyder
Anti-Bullying Awareness Campaign: https://www.facebook.com/BrokenBonesShatteredDreams
*Photos courtesy of EJ "Skullcrusher" Snyder
- Naked And Afraid Airs On The Discovery Channel Sundays at 10/9C